By the next day I knew I’d be waiting a little while for my new tyres to make the migration from east coast Australia to the outback, but it wasn’t such a bad thing. My next major town was Mount Isa, and if I’d kept moving I would have ridden straight into rodeo weekend.

There are a lot of annual rodeos in Western Queensland, but Mount Isa is undeniably the biggest, and perhaps also the wildest. I’d always wanted to go to see if I loved it or hated it, but I also knew that the Isa would be awash visitors and grog for the next four or five days. It wouldn’t be a safe place to be leaving my moto and my gear unattended, and on rodeo weekend there’d be no secure accommodation vacancies to be had for love or money.

Neither of which I was prepared to offer.

So I decided to just put my feet up and enjoy the hobo life down by the Burke River.

The river corridor was shaded and peaceful, filled with cockatoos and flocks of smaller birds that wheeled and dived as they came in to drink. The river was no longer flowing on the surface – instead, it had retreated into long still pools – but cool water was still percolating through the sand of the river bed.


I had water to wash and to swim; shade and firewood; a moving show of birdlife during the day and a dazzling canopy of stars at night. It was everything I needed.


Well, almost everything. After a few days I’d eaten my way through most of the tuna, pasta and dehydrated peas that I’d been carrying with me. The Min Min Store in town sold food and fresh vegetables (well, sort of fresh vegetables) but as you’d expect in the middle of nowhere, prices were steep. I bought a few onions and some peculiar fruit in jelly which were on special, but couldn’t bring myself to splash out much further. I resigned myself to eating a lot of porridge.

But things have a way of working out, and I made some new friends down by the river. Jeff and Judy were watching the birds by the river for a few days, or maybe a few weeks, too. They were retired, caravanning around on a modest budget, and slowly making their way through to Camooweal where there was to be a festival on the banks of the Georgina River. Kind and interesting people, we shared a few mornings drinking tea, talking about travel and motorbikes and all the places that life takes you. Jeff and Judy are also talented camp cooks: in an old cast iron camp oven, buried in coals from the campfire, they had made scones, fruit cake, roasts.

They even had refrigeration, so there was milk in the coffee and butter on the scones.

How many scones with butter and ginger jam can one homeless motorcyclist eat? The answer is, A LOT. Oh my, such happiness. Jeff and Judy fed me up with a kind laugh. ‘I always think about my daughter, and if she was travelling, I’d want to make sure she was eating well,’ said Judy, handing me my fourth scone.


After a few days in town I tracked down Robbo, a friend of a friend. Months ago, over beers in a pub a thousand kilometres away, my friend Glen had told me to ‘look up Robbo in Boulia, he’s a top bloke, tell him Glen the copper with the dog in Mount Isa sent you’. I was a bit drunk at the time and had transcribed this literally (with a liberal dose of spelling mistakes) into a memo on my phone.

Now, in Boulia, I wasn’t sure if Robbo was meant to be the policeman here, or someone else entirely. I did a lap of the cop shop but there was no-one home, which is just as well because it turned out that Robbo wasn’t the copper. No, it turns out that Robbo is a colourful local identity who remains well-known across Queensland and the Northern Territory from his days running earth moving machinery, road houses and pubs. He’s been a lot of places, done a lot of things, and helped out a lot of people over the years.


I found him enjoying retirement at his backyard bar on the banks of the Burke River, and he and his partner welcomed me in. I even met the local policeman who I’d just missed earlier: also a top bloke. We had sunset beers and Gwen gifted me some beautiful oranges from her orchard.


Now Robbo has an incredible workshop – complete with a drive-over pit, and tall enough to park your truck in it without unloading the bulldozer from the trailer. Definitely enough space for a KTM with a funny rattle.

Within a few days, I was camped on Gwen and Robbo’s lawn with Beastie in pieces in Robbo’s shed. I was on the hunt for the mystery rattle that I’d first heard in Birdsville. Was it in the engine? Or just a loose bolt or a rock in the bash plate?


For two long days, I dismantled and reassembled. It was painstaking, slow work as I carefully familiarised myself with each part before disassembling, photographing in case I forgot how it went back together; I laid the bolts out in a map that corresponded to the holes I’d removed them from, and zip tied my timing chain to cog so it couldn’t slip.

After my rocker arm episode in the Gulf of Carpentaria, I wanted to pull the rocker arms out and check the bearings and rollers, just in case there was some underlying issue that might be causing the problem to recur. I also wanted to check my valve clearances: I don’t know how far out of spec they would need to be to cause a noticeable rattle, but I’d heard horror stories of engines that had sucked a lot dust having problems with constantly tightening exhaust valves and I wanted to check it out. Beastie certainly hasn’t sucked a lot of dust since I’ve owned her, but who knows what her previous owner got up to.


In total, I found one loose bolt, one missing bolt, no rocks in my bashplate, and all my valve clearances were out of spec. They were all too loose.

So I spent some time with my micrometre and spare shims, shuffling the shims around to get everything back in spec as much as possible. It wasn’t perfect – I didn’t have the right shims to get everything back to 0.012 the way I like it – but it was pretty damn close.

I closed up the engine again, cleaned my air filter, re-oiled it and set it out to dry. The next day, I reassembled everything and prayed to all the motorbike gods: please let her start. Please let her run. Please let everything be okay.

I hit the ignition button. She jumped into life. She didn’t shudder, or rattle, or cut out. She sounded better.

It had taken me two days, multiple phone calls for technical and moral support, and a couple of bouts of tears, but I’d done it: not only had the bike gone back together again properly, but she was better than when I’d started.

I felt pretty clever.

After a week in Boulia, I got word from the good people at Metzeler that my new Enduro 3 Saharas were waiting for me in Mount Isa.

I said my goodbyes to my good friend Robbo, and my apologies to Gwen for killing bits of her lawn.

I got on the road straight away, even though it was already afternoon. I would camp by the road when the light faded.

0 thoughts on “Beastie Disassembled

  1. James says:

    Hi.jim here from hervey bay . I’m from UK. Been in the bay for 4 years . had a KTM 690 and BMW 1150 . I’m 5 ft 6 lmao !! What you are doing is awsome . I’ll travel oz at some point . I’m just building a Kawasaki kle 500 . I’m mechanic in the bay. What a place to ride around in on a bike :). If I can help with advice or getting parts to you then just ask . thanks for a hood read ???? all the best .jim

    1. Thanks James, am always happy to know people who know things about 690s!! ???? You have so much to look forward to in Oz, the Victorian Alps and far western Queensland are my favourite Australian riding but there’s so much I haven’t seen either. Thanks for the offer of help too, one day I will probably need some KTM parts in an obscure part of the world! I wish you good riding ????

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